Meetings are an inevitable part of business. You share information, brainstorm ideas, generate solutions, and create processes and systems. The problem is, many of these meetings are painfully boring, which means the people attending have their brains tuned out.
If people aren't focused and paying attention, the meeting wastes everyone's time. Make boring meetings more exciting (so they accomplish something) with these five practical tips:
People will insist they must have their phones—after all, an emergency could occur. The world could come to an end during your quarterly planning meeting, but it's unlikely.
Technology allows you to focus on what is not in front of you—the meeting. If people were face-to-face with the ones they text during your meeting, they'd be texting someone else. Phones stay at desks.
Without the phone, two things happen during a meeting. You're forced to stay in the present, and breaks are spent communicating with the other participants. Meetings are more interesting when you talk to your colleagues and get to know them. Phones are a barrier to this.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Boring, tedious meetings occur when the lead or moderator comes in late, doesn't have an agenda, and wings it. A well-prepared meeting can be fascinating and engaging. When the leader has a plan and a purpose, the meeting will be more interesting. When there's no direction or goal, the meeting won't be interesting.
The other part of preparation is improving your skills. You've been to meetings that were productive and interactive and made you feel like you could go forth and accomplish great things. And, you've attended meetings where you are pretty sure if you fell asleep, no one would miss you, and you wouldn't miss anything important. The difference is the person who runs the meeting.
If your meetings are boring, look in the mirror. Find a way to improve. Take a class (your HR department might help you with suggestions), and ask for feedback and mentoring from a co-worker whose meeting skills you admire. A lot of help is available if you ask, and much of it is free.
If participation isn't necessary, you can handle the whole issue via email. It's rare that you need to bring in a group to convey information. Topics such as mass layoffs or a complete company restructuring are an exception and best handled by a manager speaking to everyone. Otherwise, meetings should be interactive.
In a brainstorming session, everyone should speak. If someone isn't speaking up, call on that person to contribute. Introverts may be uncomfortable, so make it as pressure-free as possible. Your meeting culture needs to ensure that everyone's ideas are included, and participants should know in advance so they are not surprised.
Whether it's a planning meeting, a goal-setting meeting, or even a quarterly report meeting, always allow time for questions and comments.
Don't Let Any Person Dominate
If you're leading the meeting, you might speak more than others, but don't let any one person dominate the conversation. That's the formula for a tedious meeting. Redirect comments and call on people with expertise in the area to deter a compulsive talker.
People who take the time to attend a meeting, bringing their knowledge and experience, deserve a chance to speak and share their opinions. As the leader, you can learn to control behavior that undermines the meeting.
Here's a way to politely stop an employee—let's call her Jane—when she finishes her fourth comment and starts to go for a fifth: “Thanks, Jane, we know your position. I'd like to hear what Karen has to say. And, Jim and Bob have not yet had a chance to speak."
Sometimes, you'll have to talk to the Janes of your office before a meeting to remind them the point of coming together as a group is to share ideas with everyone, and, if they dominate, the meeting won't be as successful. Discussing this behavior immediately following the meeting works well, too, as you will have fresh examples to provide.
Make Actionable Items
An interesting and exciting meeting ends with things people can and should be doing, either to further their individual goals, the company's goals, or, ideally, both. If people don't walk away knowing what their next steps are, then the meeting failed.
Build in a follow-up for accountability. It can take place in a second meeting or individually, but it needs to happen. People will tune out if they know the action items are all for show.
Make these five changes and boring meetings will become more exciting and productive. When people experience interesting and productive meetings, the overall organization benefits.